“Take-home” Covid Lawsuits, the new source of worry for American Businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic keeps sticking around. This pandemic has been going on for more than 2 years now, and despite how deadly or contagious it can be, people have started to learn to live with it. Businesses and educational institutes that were once in lockdown have started re-operating. The economies that had drastically slowed down are coming back to their usual paces and business cycles.

There have been many instances where, despite taking several precautions, individuals catch the virus and get infected by it. Given the disease’s contagiousness, it is already very tough for companies to protect their employees, provide them with a fully safe environment, and cover their liability. Hence, the filing and ruling of “take-home” cases can spell disaster for businesses already hard hit by the pandemic. “Take-home” cases allow employees to sue the company for the damages when a non-employee close contact may catch COVID-19 or die from COVID-19 complications. These types of cases are open rooms for unlimited liability for American companies.

Never-ending chain of liability cases:

This idea of an employee filing and winning a “take-home” case seemed far-fetched until a ruling in California that allowed a death lawsuit against Candies Inc., for the death of the husband (Arturo Ek) of an employee (Matilde Ek). Matilde said that she caught the virus within the company’s premises from the sick coworkers, and then her husband caught it from her which resulted in his death from COVID-19 in April 2020, at the age of 72.

The company could appeal to California’s Supreme court to fight the case now since other states are handling these cases differently, which may influence California judges. Still, the Califormia decision was met with undeniable resentment from business groups who argued that this ruling could result in endless lawsuits from not only friends and family of the said infected person, but any person in their circle. This was described as a “never-ending chain of liability” by these groups. To counter this, these groups have convinced around 30 states to make it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring forward COVID-19 lawsuits. Right now, this is not the case in California.

Impact of the California take-home Covid case ruling:

As business lawyer Omeed Berenjian of  BK Law Group said, “The ruling in California may lead to pointless cases of COVID-19 liability being bought to court, making it difficult for small businesses to fight. This could have an effect on how other states, like our own Minnesota, react to such cases.”

This point was further highlighted when hours after the ruling, another very similar COVID-19 case was filed by a couple against Victory Woodworks Inc. There have been around 23 take-home lawsuits filed in the United States to date, all of which claimed that employers failed to follow the appropriate protocols to deal with COVID-19. The circumstances mostly include but are not limited to employees being crammed together and not being screened for COVID-19 before entering work premises. Around six of these cases have been dismissed while the others remain in early stages.

For COVID-19 take-home cases, plaintiffs must establish a connection between the case itself and their workplace. It is only then that they may have a chance of winning these cases.